Inside the Mind of the Small Business Owner


Understanding Google search – the Webmaster guidelines, the PPC platform, the relentless algorithm updates, and so on – is part of the job description for those of us in the digital marketing field.

Small business owners didn’t sign up to be online marketers – but they are. Thousands of digital marketing agencies are standing by ready to do the job, but many small business owners choose to do it themselves.

Why would anyone want to do that to themselves?

Anyone that’s run an SEO campaign, a PPC campaign, a social campaign, even those of us who do it each and every day will admit that it’s hard. It’s not surprising that budget is one of the reasons.

But what else? Why are these small business owners running their own online marketing campaigns?

Well, Why Not?

Lauren Fairbanks, owner of Digital Remedy Repair says her company’s primary focus is organic search and Google PPC ads.

Fairbanks has more than seven years of experience in SEO and content marketing. Also her partner has AdWords experience, so they haven’t had to hire freelancers or a marketing agency.

After tripling the PPC budget two months ago, they’re seeing a return of three dollars for every dollar spent. But Fairbanks admits that for a while, they were frustrated with their efforts to increase organic rankings, which she knows are “incredibly important.”

She understands that:

Showing up in the top three spots on the first page of Google is great for local businesses and can help offset the cost of PPC advertising. However, depending on how tech-savvy your competitors are, getting to the front-page can be tough and time consuming.

Rewarding – but a Reason to Cry


Why would President of, Roberta Perry, who is immersed in developing formulas for her natural skin care products and running a manufacturing/storefront business, want to take on the complexities of online marketing?

“Because,” she says, “people can hear my voice and the voice of our business much better.”

Even so, Perry says that digital marketing is the toughest thing her company does stating:

It is at best, the most rewarding, and at its worst, a reason to cry. There is an abundance of information out there, and finding the right fit specifically for my small business is like a puzzle.

Perry’s marketing includes email campaigns and social media posts (some paid). She used a PR person that did get a placement or two, but due to a limited budget, did not get much out of it.

Scrapping PPC and Moving on to SEO

Brandon Baker of Loveletter Cakeshop in New York City tried AdWords for six months and faced one persistent issue.

“Organizing our AdWords account was a bit of a headache,” he says. They were receiving clicks for keywords that were completely off target, so tried adding exclusions and refining keywords.

However, they found it much too time consuming. The campaign was costly and few orders came via PPC.

Baker admits, “The person who handled the PPC campaign had very minimal experience with the platform, so that is probably the reason for the difficulty.”

When asked if he had considered outsourcing PPC, he says, “We did consider hiring a PPC agency, but by the time we looked into the details, we were already headfirst into our SEO campaign. So we placed our PPC on temporary hold.”

Six months in, Baker’s SEO campaign which is currently run by an experienced in-house SEO, is going quite well. “We’re seeing our website slowly climb the local rankings for some of our target keywords and we’ve seen an increase in our organic traffic as well. Best of all, we’re no longer paying for clicks,” Baker says. 

Those clicks are indeed free, if you don’t count the expense of the paying the salary of the in-house SEO.

But Baker gets that when compared with PPC, SEO is typically a lower cost channel for clicks and leads. He also understands that the SEO work they do now will pay dividends in new markets, where PPC will become more costly as they expand outside of New York City.

No Checks and Balances

Ryan Sasser of says, “SEO is a small business owner’s worst nightmare. You think you begin to understand it, but the very next time you talk with an SEO he grins and says ‘none of that works now.’”

Sasser is also convinced that, “[SEO is] a major source for new customers and revenue. Ranking number one for competitive keywords can make or break your bottom line.” But he’s tired of feeling like he’s wasting money and getting “ripped off.”

He hired a highly recommended SEO agency to manage his campaign. Two months and $10,000 in, he saw no improvement in rankings and was told he would see results in a few months. At that point, he had IT pull server logs and check the credentials he had assigned them for the site. What he discovered was that they had not even logged in – ever.

Sasser believes that this kind of thing is the norm in SEO. He consulted an attorney who said there was nothing he could do because SEO contracts are very vague regarding the actual day-to-day responsibilities.

Sasser says:

There are no checks and balances like in other mediums such as email marketing or PPC, because every SEO says, ‘We need time.’ It can take four-six months to even know if they’ve done anything worthwhile.

Sasser says he has hired an in-house SEO “auditor” who handles small, day-to-day tasks and checks the new SEO company’s work daily, which has helped turn the SEO project around. They now have some first-page rankings.

Agency Fail

A Google penalty and PPC failures were enough to turn Mark Aselstine of Uncorked Ventures away from outsourcing.

The Google penalty came from work done by an agency, which required months of work to disavow about 40,000 links and to provide rationale to Google as to why the other links were well-earned. The penalty was eventually lifted, but since it came right before the Christmas shopping season…

Accroding to Aselstine, the agency that ran their PPC campaign “seemed more consumed with delivering clicks than sales.” He also says he gave up on Facebook, Twitter, and others because, “Social media was not converting – like ever.”

Now Aselstine says his strategy is, “Creating content that we hope is good, pitch to a select number of bloggers every week, and try to build relationships with them. The numbers are small, but it’s sustainable – which is something we couldn’t say about our online marketing before.”

He says, “There’s something to be said for the level of care and concern you put into your own business, that others may not.”

Authentic is the New Marketing

Bryan Leeds of Viter Energy Mints runs PPC campaigns on Facebook. He hasn’t hired an agency because he says, “The Facebook ads platform is easy.” Plus he wants to understand it so he can understand his customers well and what resonates with them.

Viter Energy has built a Facebook page with over 25,000 followers by focusing only on mobile ads, and using the interest feature to hone-in on people with this exact interest.

As a result, it reaches audiences with boosted in-feed posts. But using the same strategies to drive cold traffic to the site with the intention of generating sales, was not a success. “The costs were incredibly high and far from ROI positive. We still can’t figure out how to make our ads profitable from Facebook,” he says. 

He hasn’t ruled out the possibility of hiring a PPC agency in the future. Currently, they’re attempting to drive traffic to a lead magnet, get people on their email list, and then sell them products after building a relationship via email.

Leeds doesn’t think an agency provides real value for social and email. He says, “We listen to podcasts and mastermind and we feel like we understand what’s most up to date with social media and email marketing. Plus we feel that being authentic is the new marketing. An agency can’t give us that authentic voice. Also, with so many tools out now, it’s easy to automate social media and email.”

Leeds does not do SEO in the traditional sense, “We do influencer outreach and content marketing, and believe our SEO will improve over time. We don’t hire an agency for SEO because we haven’t seen anything that would provide ROI. We don’t trust lots of SEO agencies.”


When we talk about selling SEO and digital marketing to small business owners, a common theme is education.

There is something to be said about the advent of self-tutelage. It’s an admirable effort, but a key factor to be able to understand is how much traffic is potentially missed without having a vigorous SEO campaign.

It’s also important to be able to recognize how much traffic competitors are potentially receiving because of their SEO campaigns.

However, minimally the people in the examples, along with so many other small business owners, do understand that online marketing is required. This is the first step in the right direction. 


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